All great sports careers come to an end and that time is drawing near for world handball champion Paul Brady, who attempts to retain his title at a record-breaking renewal of the event this week in CityWest, Dublin.
One of these days, whether he comes through the world-class field or not, Brady will walk away from the sport that has dominated 21 of his 33 years.
The thought can hit him anywhere — in the gym, on the physio table, in Mass, in class with the kids he teaches in Ballinagh National School. Soon, all this will be over.
Regrets? He shakes his head firmly. The more he wins, the more he wants to win. He explained: "I think it’s getting easier as a result of the increased motivation. I’m more hungry now that it’s coming to the end, it’s more important, it’s urgent because I’m very close to the end. There’s just more urgency in what you’re doing."
If he wins a 10th All-Ireland Senior Singles title next April, that will be it. Or maybe he’ll play some doubles with his friend Michael Finnegan, "for recreation, to wean myself off it".
Either way, Brady’s got plans. "There are other goals in my life I want to achieve. Find a wife, couple of children (laughs)! You can’t have regrets. They’re the decisions I made at the time and it makes all the effort more worth it; You can’t have your cake and eat it but there have been a lot of sacrifices."
Like what? He grins and opens a notebook.
"Financial, social life, relationships, career, travel. I have a list of them here, believe it or not (laughs). Football. If I was just a footballer and had focused on that..."
Brady’s application is legendary in handball circles. He prepares like a professional and leaves nothing to chance.
"I had no choice, that was the sport I was introduced to. If I’d lived in Florida, I might have played tennis. Who knows what would have happened? But I do think I would have had that drive to succeed. It’s all or nothing with me when I take up something and that’s how I play as well. If I had to describe my style, I’d say it’s aggressive and risky. I take risks when it gets tight, I go for the big shots. If I miss them, I miss them, but if I don’t..."
Brady, a nephew of three-time All- Ireland football winner Phil "The Gunner", hasn’t missed them for some time. It’s 10 years in December since his career reached a tipping point, when he defeated Californian Vince Munoz in the final of a pro tournament in Milwaukee and spun the handball world off its axis. Since then, with a couple of exceptions, he’s won everything he has entered and been transformed from a streaky, skinny kid with talent to a legend of the game. The sport has taken him places and shown him things. The sweltering heat of Houston in June. Two feet of snow in Minneapolis in February. He’s hung around the theatre district in Montreal, drank beers with the Basques and once flew to a hick Californian town where the locals accosted him and asked him to speak for the novelty of the accent.
There’s a neat symmetry, then, to the fact that he’s back in Dublin for the last major event of his career and will attempt to dismantle one of the best fields ever assembled, with at least 30 of the world’s top 32 in attendance.
"If I play my best, they have to get up to my level. I’ve proven it over and over that I play to a certain level and if they step up to it, I have to hope I can up it again. It keeps me motivated, the chasing pack drives me on."
Whatever he does, Brady will do at full tilt. "This is just one chapter, the next is going to be even better."